Fourth industrial revolution training shake-up: Developing leadership in a gig driven world

Professor Bernd Vogel and Obiageli Heidelberger-Nkenke make some bold recommendations based on recent research.

Some people say the fourth industrial revolution is already here, others say it is still far off in the distance, but even if your organisation is not yet affected by it, it will arrive loud and clear in the next ten years, challenging many of today’s training and development wisdoms beyond recognition. Recent research, in partnership with Deutsche Telekom and Detecon Consulting, evidences this and unearthed informed work and leadership projections for the future of work.

The business environment of 2028 will be dominated by temporary workers, gig engagements, technological revolutions, automation and AI, and will require new forms of decision making and involvement, redefined accountabilities in society and organisations, and thus constant learning, unlearning, and re-learning of leadership amongst employees and managers.

Three key areas will shake up the future of training and provide direction for creating a 2028 mindset and the capabilities and personal qualities required to guide organisations and employees to be able to thrive on human-centricity in tech-driven work environments:

Preparing for gig leadership

Required: A shake up of leadership status and styles

Constant updates in technology, complex purposes, rapidly changing tasks, gig and episodic working, and people’s complementary qualities and capabilities will become the drivers of who takes the helm of leadership in future projects.

Referred to as gig leadership, this will require the ability to step in and out of leadership roles and accept that others will temporarily take the lead on an ongoing basis; the interim leadership status will become a permanent feature of the workplace.

Leadership in organisations will rotate and involve the many, spanning across functions and positions amongst managers, employees and gig workers, and the status quo of leadership as a privilege at the top will no longer exist.

Leadership behaviour will be rotating, multidirectional, inclusive and diverse, with peer-to-peer leadership, collective-leadership and leading of people-tech ecosystems a new standard in the business world; it will also reveal leadership capacity in gig-workers and specific areas for development for lifelong learning.

Organisations need to identify company-specific hurdles and drivers for developing gig workers to align with long-term organisational goals and knowledge and people retention. Acknowledging that all employees are part of the leadership puzzle and therefore worth developing is not just an investment but can also serve as an anchor for loyalty beyond the gig.

“I think a big trend is moving away from leader-centric notions of leadership and its development to more distributive, shared, collective leadership. It’s one where everyone has to take responsibility for being a leader when needed… So how do you prepare for that? … Development is still very 20th century… I think there has to be more collective intervention.” Professor David Day, Claremont McKenna College

Embracing lifelong learning and whole person development for everyone

Required: A shake up of leadership development

A revolution is coming in leadership development; organisations and experts in the field will face unlearning of their wisdoms and habits in order to take development forward. Training will be disruptive, uncomfortable, transformative and collective and all employees, including gig workers with episodic work relationships and loyalties, will be part of the development efforts.

The emphasis will be on enabling employees to navigate effectively within the fluidity of relationships, tasks and roles in people-tech ecosystems. Whole person development will also be important to nurture both multifaceted leadership capacities of enabling, listening, caring and judging, alongside deep personal qualities of leadership such as being self-directed, generative and focusing on survival.

To achieve this, businesses need to incorporate lifelong, disruptive, multifaceted, multi-level and non-linear learning and un-learning to prepare employees for leading in a new reality; organisations must switch to collective constellations of learning for all employees and embed people-tech ecosystems.

Embracing a culture of failing

Required: A shake up of learning culture

To make lifelong, disruptive and abundant learning a reality by 2028, the business leaders we interviewed urged firms and stakeholders to embrace a deeply embedded culture of failing; this needs to go beyond slogans, glossy presentations and weak implementation and towards rewarding of a learning mindset.

Leadership that asks for courage, risk-taking, lifelong learning, organisational re-invention and inclusive decision-making can only flourish in a culture where experimenting and making genuine mistakes defines the organisation’s identity of learning.

Firms can start by pulling together an inventory of current hurdles and cases of learning from failing and, in collaboration with educational institutions, explore where the space is for pioneering activity in collegiate systems that endorses outlier thinking.

This is a wake-up call for top management to take firm and sustained steps towards a deep identity change that enables lifelong learning, failing and un-learning and will become an asset of future successful training and performance.

“The structure of the organisation, what it supports and sanctions [could pose a hurdle]. The eagerness to experiment plays a big part, and it starts with school… Making mistakes is supposed to form a part of learning. How am I supposed to learn, if I am not allowed to make mistakes once in a while?” Silke Luinstra, Founder of AUGENHÖHE.

It is time to reinvent leadership training

A perfect forecast for the future of business and training in 2028 is difficult to set in stone but our research shows that shaking up and fundamentally challenging some of the habits of training today, to make space for experimenting with ground-breaking ideas of leadership learning tomorrow, is the right starting point to shape the next decade of leadership training and learning in your organisation.


About the authors

Professor Bernd Vogel is founding director of the Henley Centre for Leadership, and Obiageli Heidelberger-Nkenke is a research collaborator at Henley Business School.



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